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Gimme A Break! - The Complete First Season



DVD Release Date: May 30, 2006 (VEI)
MSRP: $34.95 CDN
Number of Discs: 3
Number of Episodes: 19
Running Time: Approx. 8 Hours (episodes are the same as the Universal release)
Total Run Time of Special Features: approx. 75 minutes (counting bonus episodes)
Audio: English
Subtitles: English SDH; Closed Captioned.
Special Features: Kate & Allie: Season One bonus episode "Allie's First Date", Gimme A Break!: Season Two preview episode "Nell Goes To Jail", Stockard Channing in Just Friends bonus episode "Pilot Episode"


Gimme A Break, I sure deserve it. It's time I made it to the top. Nell Carter shines as Nellie Ruth "Nell" Harper, the role that twice earned her Emmy and Golden Globe Award nominations, and helped redefine the meaning of "family." Available for the first time ever on DVD, Gimme A Break! is the funny, hip and sometimes poignant portrayal of the Kanisky family: widowed Police Chief Carl; his three daughters Katie, Julie and Samantha; and their unflappable housekeeper-turned-surrogate mother (Carter). This 3-disc set includes all 19 episodes from Season One, as well as a preview from Season Two and bonus episodes from the 80's sitcoms Kate & Allie and Stockard Channing in Just Friends. Featuring renouned guest stars such as Danny Glover, Rue McClanahan and Helen Hunt, Gimme A Break! is the beloved sitcom that delivers both love and laughs.

Gimme A Break fans in Canada have finally been given a break with this release. Universal only had the rights to sell Gimme A Break (and Kate & Allie) in the United States, so VEI stepped up to the plate and acquired the rights to sell in Canada. I've heard reports that some people were able to find the Universal release in a few stores that carry imports, but it was very hard to find anywhere else. This Canadian release, which should be easier to find in stores, contains the same episodes (including the Season 2 premiere episode "Nell Goes To Jail"), but it has different packaging, menus, and bonus episodes. VEI will also be releasing Kate & Allie - The Complete First and Second Seasons on June 30th. Their other releases include Hardcastle & McCormick - Season 1 (Season 2 is coming soon), The Best of Bizarre (Volumes 1-4), and The Best Moments of The Amazing Kreskin.

Memorable Episodes / Notable Guest Stars:

Gimme A Break premiered on NBC on October 29, 1981. It was not an immediate ratings success, but it eventually found an audience. It aired in at least 10 different time slots during its six season run. A total of 137 episodes were produced. The show has rarely been seen in syndication on cable in recent years. It last regularly aired on the USA Network in September 1998. The first season cast included Nell Carter as Nell Harper, Dolph Sweet as Carl Kanisky, Kari Michaelson as Katie Kanisky, Lauri Hendler as Julie Kanisky, Lara Jill Miller as Samantha "Sam" Kanisky, and Howard Morton as Officer Ralph Simpson.

The first season premiere was delayed due to a writer's strike, and only 19 episodes were produced. There were several memorable episodes. In "Julie's Rejection," Katie nominates Julie for membership into "The Silver Slippers," an exclusive social club for girls. When Julie can't find a date to the prom, she drowns her sorrows at the arcade... where Cupid scores a direct hit in "Julie's First Love." Katie is rushed to the hospital and the Chief is shocked to learn the cause of the emergency in "The Emergency." Chaos in the Kanisky home comes to a head when Samantha drives away in her father's squad car in "Samantha Steals a Squad Car." Katie's singing group, "Hot Muffins," is such a big hit at the local nightclub that music producers want to bring the group to Hollywood in "Hot Muffins." After being named Law Enforcement Officer of the Year, the Chief comes home to find that his house is being robbed in "The Robbery."

There were a number of notable guest stars. Harrison Page appeared as Bob in "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" and as Hamilton Storm in "The Robbery." He would return as Hamilton Storm in several other episodes the next season. Rue McClanahan plays Marian, an old high school classmate of The Chief, in "The Second Time Around." Mary Jo Catlett guest starred as Betty in "Do or Diet." Danny Glover appeared as Bill in "A Man in Nell's Room." Jay Johnson played the Priest in "Your Prisoner is Dead" and "An Unmarried Couple" and the Ventriloquist in "Nell's Ex." Julie Anne Haddock ("The Facts of Life") plays the club president in "Julie's Rejection." Liz Sheridan plays the Nurse in "The Emergency." Hilda Haynes, Nell Carter's real-life mother, plays Nell's mother in "Nell Goes Home." Elizabeth Kerr appeared as Grandma Mildred Kanisky in "Grandma Fools Around." She would be replaced by Jane Dulo the following season. Crystal Bernard guest starred as Kelly in "The Hot Muffins." John P. Navin played Scotty in "Sam's Affair." Helen Hunt appeared as Valerie in "An Unmarried Couple." An interesting trivia note: Helen Hunt auditioned for the role of Katie Kanisky. Paul Regina played Jonathan in "An Unmarried Couple." Recurring characters that make their first appearances included Alvernette Jiminez as Nell's friend, Angie, and Pete Schrum as Uncle Ed Kanisky.


This 3-disc set contains all 19 episodes from the first season (1981-1982). The packaging for this Canadian release is a bit different than the Universal set. It comes in a thin outer cardboard box with three slim cases. There is a similar photo of Nell Carter in red on the cover, and there are six smaller circular photos in various tinted backgrounds. The Gimme A Break! logo is in a teal circle. The Nell Carter photo certainly isn't from the first season, but that is really a minor point. People probably recognize her more from Season 3 and on. The smaller photos, one that has Rue McClanahan, all look to be from the first season. On the back of the outer box, there are 10 small circular photos. These all look to be shots from season 1 episodes and include Crystal Bernard and Helen Hunt. There is also a synopsis of the set and a list of the bonus episodes. The three slim cases that slide out from the right of the outer box are black, unlike the Universal Set which had clear plastic slim cases. The slim cases have the same photo of Nell and other tinted, circular photos that are used on the outer box. There are some short 1-2 sentence summaries (same ones as the Universal release) of the episodes listed on the back of the cases. I would have liked to see them list the original airdates and major guest stars, also. There is just black space inside the cases. This space could have been used for some additional photos, trivia, or quotes from the series. The discs use the same photos of Nell and the cast that were used on the packaging. The Gimme A Break! logo is written in blue at the top of the disc, and they are numbered. Disc 1 has episodes 1-8, Disc 2 has 9-16, and Disc 3 has 17-19 and the bonus episodes.

Menu Design and Navigation:

The menus are a bit more plain looking than what was used on the Universal release. They are easy to navigate. They don't have the theme music on them like the other set. The main menus feature the same photo of Nell Carter in the center of the screen. On the left, there is the Gimme A Break! logo in blue. On the right, there are 5 of the same tinted, circular photos that were used on the cover art. There are options for "Play All," "Episodes," and "Subtitles" and a link to VEI's website - ina green bar at the bottom of the screen. A "Bonus Material" option is given on the 3rd disc. When you go to the Episodes menu, there are 3-4 episodes listed per screen. There is a still image from each episode in a picture frame. The Gimme A Break! logo is in blue at the top of the screen, and it has a white background. The episode titles are listed in green. When you highlight an episode, it changes to a different shade of green. I think they should have made the highlighted color different, as it was difficult to tell which episode I was about to select. The episodes menu lack the original airdates and longer episode summaries that the Universal set used. The bonus episodes menu is set up the same way, with photos in picture frames. Like the Universal set, there are no chapter stops or scene selection menus. After you finish an episode, the next one automatically starts. Both VEI and Universal should add chapter stops for the next season.

Video and Audio Quality:

Although VEI is calling this the "Complete First Season" and Universal called their set "Season One", the episodes looked the same to me as far as their video quality, and the running times match up almost exactly. Both companies were probably given the same set of remastered episodes. The video and audio are both excellent and better than I expected. It is hard to believe that these episodes are around 25 years old now. They were shot on video tape, so there isn't any problem with a lot of grain or dirt that you see with shows on film. The last time Gimme A Break was in national syndication was on the USA Network in September 1998. The episodes on this DVD set look much cleaner and have likely been digitally remastered for the best possible picture quality. There are no more than 8 episodes per disc, so there are no compression isuses. All episodes appear to be unedited, running over 24 minutes in length. The running times differ by only 1-2 seconds from the Universal set. They are in their original broadcast order. There is nothing on the packaging to indicate that any of the music has been replaced. This is an additional two minutes than what you saw on the USA Network. No more jokes cut off, while still having the audience's laughter on these episodes! For the closing logo enthusiasts, these episodes have the Alan Landsburg Productions logo on them.

The audio is a Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track. The volume is at a good level, and the dialogue is easy to understand. These episodes feature the opening theme that they used for the first seasons Subtitles for the deaf & hard-of-hearing are available on all of the episodes.

Here is the episode breakdown by disc and the running times:

Disc 1
1. Katie the Crook (10/29/81) (23:59)
2. A Good Man is Hard to Find (11/05/81) (24:09)
3. The Second Time Around (11/12/81) (24:19)
4. Mom's Birthday (11/19/81) (24:19)
5. Do or Diet (11/26/81) (24:20)
6. A Man in Nell's Room (12/03/81) (24:18)
7. Your Prisoner is Dead (12/10/81) (24:20)
8. Julie's Rejection (12/17/81) (24:00)

Disc 2
9. Julie's First Love (01/07/82) (24:10)
10. Nell's Ex (01/14/82) (24:08)
11. Katie the Cheat (01/21/82) (24:19)
12. The Emergency (02/04/82) (24:18)
13. Nell Goes Home (02/11/82) (24:21)
14. Samantha Steals a Squad Car (02/18/82) (24:18)
15. Grandma Fools Around (02/25/82) (24:19)
16. Hot Muffins (03/11/82) (24:19)

Disc 3
17. Sam's Affair (03/18/82) (24:17)
18. The Robbery (03/25/82) (24:17)
19. An Unmarried Couple (04/01/82) (24:17)

Special Features:

The special features are found on the third disc. They include the same bonus/preview episode of Gimme A Break (Season 2's "Nell Goes To Jail"), but the other bonus episodes are different. "The Great '80s Flashback" documentary is not included, since that was made by Universal to promote their releases.

Before the bonus episosdes menu starts, there are some promos for some other VEI releases: Mind Your Language (Volumes 1-4), The Best Moments of The Amazing Kreskin, Hardcastle & McCormick Seasons 1-2, and The Best of Bizarre Volumes 1-4.

Here are the bonus episodes included:

Kate & Allie: Season One - "Allie's First Date" - This was the pilot episode of Kate & Allie. Kelsey Grammer of "Cheers" and "Frasier" fame was in it. The Universal set included "A Very Loud Family", so you get something a little different here. The episode runs 24:27. VEI is releasing Kate & Allie - The Complete First and Second Seasons on June 30th. Their Kate & Allie release is definitely a better deal, as you get more episodes for the same or lower price. Stay tuned for our upcoming review of that set. Some of the episodes on Universal's release were edited and from syndication, so we shall see how the episodes differ on VEI's release.

Gimme A Break!: Season Two - "Nell Goes To Jail" - This was the second season premiere episode. Universal also included this as a "preview" episode. There is a still image of Dolph Sweet and Nell Carter in a picture frame at the start of the episode that says that it is from "The Forthcoming DVD Release" of Season 2. The episode runs 24:51, the same running time as on the Universal set.

Stockard Channing in Just Friends - "Pilot Episode" - This was a surprising conclusion. When I first saw this episode mentioned as an extra, I thought it would be a preview of an upcoming release. VEI will be releasing a 2 DVD set with 23 episodes of Stockard Channing in Just Friends and The Stockard Channing Show on June 6th. The bonus episode on this set is from CBS' first attempt at launching a sitcom for Stockard Channing. It aired on March 4, 1979. The episode quality is not as good as the Gimme A Break episodes. There are some tape glitches and other digital imperfections, but it was still very watchable. There was even a closing logo for "Little Bear Productions," which is probably very rare.

For future seasons, I would like to see a documentary on Gimme A Break! with new interviews/audio commentaries with the surviving cast members. Some bloopers would be fun to watch, if they exist.

Final Comments:

If you've already bought Universal's release of Gimme A Break - Season One, then there probably isn't any reason for you to buy this set. The episodes look the same and have the same running times. Some might like the packaging a bit better for this set, but I think the other set had nicer menus. If you live in Canada and were unable to find the other release, then this one is for you. I'm glad that VEI acquired the rights to sell the show in Canada, so fans up there can join in on the excitement of Gimme A Break being on DVD. It would be an interesting scenario if Universal didn't release Season 2 or delayed it, and VEI released the second season before them. I guess it would be good to have a second company to fall back on if Universal's sales were not good. I'd love to see VEI release some more one-year wonders that Universal or other large studios would never release like Stockard Channing in Just Friends and The Stockard Channing Show.

Final Numbers (out of 5 stars - How our point system works)

Video Quality: 4/5
Audio Quality: 4/5
Special Features: 2/5
Menu Design/Navigation: 4/5
Overall: 4/5

-- Reviewed by Todd Fuller on 05/21/06

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